Pool D: Wales should emerge ahead of Wallabies and Fiji

Gatland’s side have peaked at the right time but Australia have beaten the All Blacks

Wales celebrate victory over England in August. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty

Wales celebrate victory over England in August. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty

 

Pool D

Wales - 4th (7-1)
Australia - 6th (16-1)
Fiji - 9th (500-1)
Georgia - 12th (1000-1)
Uruguay - 19th (5000-1)

The Contenders

Wales head to Japan as the northern hemisphere’s dominant force, following a highly impressive Six Nations campaign which ended with them beating Ireland in Cardiff to secure the Grand Slam. This summer they moved to world number one (albeit briefly) with a victory over England at the Millennium Stadium, a week after suffering defeat at Twickenham - their first loss in 15 Tests. This Rugby World Cup will be Warren Gatland’s swansong as Wales coach, with the Kiwi returning to his native New Zealand after the tournament following four golden years in charge. Well drilled and with strength-in-depth across the park, the Welsh seem to have peaked at just the right time. But while things might be rosy in the Valleys, things are not so great Down Under, with Australia heading into the tournament with renewed hope after spell in the doldrums. The Wallabies managed four victories in 13 Tests in 2018 - their worst calendar year since 1958 - while the murky Israel Folau saga played out in the background.

David Pockock is facing a battle to be fit for the start of the Rugby World Cup. Photograph: Tracey Nearmy/Getty
David Pockock is facing a battle to be fit for the start of the Rugby World Cup. Photograph: Tracey Nearmy/Getty

Folau has now been sacked by Rugby Australia after he made homophobic posts on Instagram, but it is not all doom for Michael Cheika’s side. They produced a stunning 47-26 win over the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship, which has given them hope despite a 36-0 reversal a week later. There has also been good news over the fitness of David Pocock, who is now fit and in the squad for Japan. Fiji meanwhile head to the World Cup with legitimate hopes of reaching the quarter-finals. They secured a maiden Test win over France in Paris last November, as well as earning a first victory over the Maori All Blacks for 62 years in July - highlighting the potential of John McKee’s side - although they did lose to Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup. Georgia have been starved of playing time against Tier One nations meaning this is a big chance for them to prove they are worthy of challenging for a place in the Six Nations, while Uruguay look resigned to the role of pool whipping boys.

The crunch fixture

On paper, the second round fixture between Australia and Wales in Chofu, Tokyo, should decide the pool - however the opener between the Wallabies and Fiji is fascinating. The Wallabies are still vulnerable, and a fearless Fiji with nothing to lose will be relishing the chance to force an upset and make a huge statement in Sapporo.

Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu carries during his side’s famous win over France last November. Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty
Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu carries during his side’s famous win over France last November. Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty

The X-Factor

The 2018-19 campaign was a golden one for Liam Williams, who earned a Premiership and European Cup double with Saracens to go alongside the Grand Slam with Wales. Adept at playing across the back three he has now made the Welsh 15 jersey his own, and matches thrilling counter-attacking with supreme aerial play.

The verdict

Wales look to have the bit between their teeth and should top the group while the wounded Wallabies have enough course form at the World Cup to see them hold off the flying Fijians.

1 Wales

2 Australia

3 Fiji

4 Georgia

5 Uruguay

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